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Mise-en-scene Anyone? – by Elna Coetzer

Elna CoetzerIn film-making, ‘mise-en-scẻne’ is used to mean ‘placing on stage’ or ‘telling the story’. This is not only the various design elements of a scene, but literally everything that constitutes one frame. Really everything from composition to form; colour to proximity of characters. It is not only the dialogue between characters, but a range of aspects – 15 fundamental principles – working together to form one frame. In a film the background, connections and the gentle ‘flowing-into-each-other’ of components are required to make the scene whole, meaningful. Similarly, stages in a lesson cannot stand alone requiring background, connection and a ‘flowing-into-each-other’ to form an effective, well-planned and executed lesson. 

In this article I will try to define the ‘telling of the story’ in a lesson and how we can do it.

Look at the following:  

Teacher A:  

  1. Look at this exercise and fill in the gaps with these words.
  2. Okay, let’s do this activity. Talk to a partner using these words. 
Teacher B: 

  1. So we looked at some new words for feelings – remember Sarah talked about it? Let’s check what you remember – do this on your own (pointing to gap-fill exercise)
  2. Now like Sarah, tell your partner your ideas. Try to use some of these words. 


Which teacher would you like to have? Hopefully you said teacher B! Undoubtedly teacher A’s delivery does the job. However, it is dry, utilitarian and makes no effort to connect the component parts, to tell the story if you will. This lesson will always just be a succession of activities that does not form a meaningful whole. 

Looking at teacher B’s lesson though, one can see that there is a certain flow. Stages are connected and links are made to aspects from earlier in the lesson – the coherence and cohesion of lessons. Yes, teacher A’s lesson is perfectly serviceable. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that this teacher could keep the students engaged, interested and motivated in the long run.  

And in teaching? 
Now you are asking yourself what mise-en-scẻne constitutes in teaching. In my opinion, in teaching we talk about: 
– transitions between stages,
– the set-up of tasks and
– maintained contextualisation throughout.  

If these three aspects are implemented effectively, a lesson forms a logical whole that students can follow easily. Let’s look at each of these aspects individually:

Learner Responses 

The next thing you might wonder about, is why this is so important. I asked some students informally why some lessons work better than others and they said (I edited a bit here): 
– I can see how things are linked;
– I like it when the lesson is not just exercises;
– …it is easier to follow when the teacher shows a clear path,
– …it holds my interest and keeps me focussed.

I could not have stated it better myself.  

Lastly the question is how we could incorporate this. Here are some ideas: 

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